Beginning in 2019, the valedictorian and salutatorian will not lead their classmates onto the graduation stage as "Pomp and Circumstance" plays over the loudspeaker. There will be no valedictory speeches. No special badge will be displayed on the yearbook photo of the top two seniors in the graduating class.
At least not in Wake County, North Carolina.
School officials in Wake County have just unanimously decided to eliminate high school valedictorians and salutatorians because it promotes unhealthy competition. The honors of valedictorian and salutatorian are historically bestowed upon the two students with the highest grade point average in a graduating class, but beginning in 2019, high school principals will be barred from selecting students for these traditional top honors.
Wake County school board chairman Tom Benton stated in an interview that competition in schools has become very unhealthy and that students weren’t collaborating the “way the school system wanted them to.” He also expressed concern over students’ choices of courses being driven by GPA and not future education plans.
Isn’t that kind of the same thing? If a student selects her courses to achieve and maintain a high GPA, doesn’t that go hand in hand with making future education plans? Do students who aspire — and yes, compete — to be valedictorians and salutatorians really not consider their future education plans?
Under the new system, graduating seniors who achieve weighted GPAs of above 3.75 will receive Latin honors along the same lines as what colleges and universities use: cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude.
If you’re thinking this sounds a little bit like the “everyone’s a winner” philosophy that has permeated youth sports, you might not be alone. While the proposed new honors system in Wake County certainly does not propose that all graduating seniors get honors or leave the graduation stage with an award beyond a high school diploma, it does take away from the top honors that high-achieving students have historically worked hard to add to their college résumé.
High school is a great place to learn how to be a teammate and how to successfully collaborate with others. There are and should continue to be outlets that foster cooperation that will teach lessons on how to succeed in the big, tough world of adulthood: sports teams, clubs, committees and student government, to name just a few.
Eliminating that extra layer of best of the best doesn’t encourage more cooperation and collaboration among students, nor does it prepare them for college or real life. The workforce is full of competition — often cutthroat, high-stakes competition — for accolades, promotions and top-tier jobs.
There is no “everyone’s a winner” in corporate America, and taking the chance to compete — yes, compete — for the honor of being valedictorian and salutatorian away from high school seniors is a step in the wrong direction.
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